A Father’s Voice: Second Fiddle

My twin two-year olds don’t seem to like me – at least not at night. Every evening before we put them to bed, my wife and I read them four books in Spanish and English. This is all part of the special ritual we’ve created to help them go to sleep at night. And like clockwork, our children go to sleep around the same time every night. It works pretty well – except for the fact that I feel completely unnecessary, like the side order that comes free with the meal, but nobody wants anyway.

This problem has always been there to some extent, but lately, in the past two months or so, it has been getting progressively worse. After we put on some nice going to sleep music, we all sit on the couch to read their books. Usually, my wife reads two and I read two. Even in the beginning there was always the rush to sit on Mommy’s lap and the one who didn’t get it had to sit with Daddy. Sitting on my wife’s lap was like winning first place and the runner-up got stuck with me, their consolation parent. It didn’t matter what I did, the next night they would always want to be with Mommy. They are around my wife every day, all day, while I am at work and maybe that was the way things had to be. Except that they are getting worse.

Recently when we have gathered on the couch together as a family to read their books, my children sometimes will literally fight for the right to sit on Mommy’s lap while I sit right next to her as if I’m invisible. This has gotten so intense that she has now allowed both of them to sit on her lap while I sit twiddling my thumbs, feeling like I might as well be standing outside looking through the window at my own family. I hate feeling like this, but I also hate the idea of “punishing” one of our children by making them sit with me if they don’t want to do that. I get so little time with them as it is.

In the morning, when I leave for work Elijah and Jordyn are almost never awake yet. When five o’clock in the afternoon comes around I am already out the door to catch my train so I can be home for dinner and see my family. Once I get home there is not much time before they go to bed, and very little unstructured time where we can have fun together. After dinner is usually bath. Then we nebulize them to try and open their respiratory passages to prevent them from getting asthma and chest colds. Only after that do we go upstairs and begin the process of going to bed.

A few weeks ago while we were all sitting on the couch before bedtime, it was my turn to read one of their books.

“Mommy do it?” my little girl, Jordyn, asked. “Mommy do it?”

“No, Jordyn,” my wife responded. “Daddy’s going to read this book.”

“Mommy do it! Mommy do it!” both my children started to yell in unison.

“Mommy will hold the book so Daddy can read it,” my wife proposed as a compromise.

Both of our children got themselves settled again, one on each leg of their mother, while she encircled them with her arms and held the book so I could read it. When the reading was over and it was time to put them in their cribs, they both said, “Mommy take you! Mommy take you!” meaning “I want Mommy to take me to my crib!” I stand there trying not to look upset and pick up whoever doesn’t get Mommy with as much enthusiasm and love I can engender and we put them to bed. Instead of walking out of their room feeling a sense of wonder at how adorable they are, I now leave feeling hurt and sad. I understand they are not intending to hurt me, but somehow that is little consolation. I still feel hurt. And I still feel angry, though I try very hard not to let it surface. I love my children deeply and I know they don’t mean to do this. I understand that it is more a statement of how they feel about their mother than how they feel about me. I know this because when my wife is not around and I put them to bed by myself, they want to sit on my lap, they want to hear me read their books, they both want me to take them to bed. Ironically, that experience makes the way they react to me when their mother is around that much harder to take. Sometimes when I pick them up and they get upset and start screaming for “Mommy,” I half-jokingly but half-seriously ask, “Who am I?” Sometimes I feel like I need to remind them that I am their parent, too. Sometimes that even works.

Lately, Jordyn has begun playing Hunting Ladybugs with me. It is both wonderful and tortuous. She will take me by the hand, which is truly one of the most special feelings in the world, and says, “Ladybugs?”

“You want to look for ladybugs?”

“Yes. Let’s go to the circus.” Apparently, the circus is where one finds ladybugs. I had no idea.

Then she takes me by the hand and leads me around the room until we get to a place where she sees ladybugs.

“Right der,” she says in that toddler accent. We get down on the floor so we can have a closer look.

“That’s a big one,” she says. “That’s a big one.”

Yes it is,” I respond. “How many spots does it have?”

“1…2…3…4…5, 6, 78910!” They always have ten, by the way, no matter how big or small they are.

Then she stands up, holds out her hand and says, “Ladybugs?” With a huge grin on my face, I stand up, take her hand and let her lead me to the next location of ladybugs in their bedroom. When it is time to sit on the couch and read their books, she starts getting very upset and screams, “Mommy’s lap? Mommy’s lap!” Even after that special time, I still find myself sitting alone on the couch. The shift from searching for ladybugs to sitting on the couch while my children climb all over their mother is made even more heartbreaking.

A week ago, after another discussion about how miserable and depressing this has become for me, my wife suggested that I read all of the books at night since she reads all of the books at nap while I am at work. Maybe that would make a difference.

Last night was the fourth night we’ve tried it and it has gotten worse every night. I am really enjoying the reading, but they don’t seem to be enjoying the listening. They are playing or talking to Mommy while I am reading, crawling all over her, while I still sit by myself. Last night they got so upset about wanting my wife to read a book that she decided to read it just so we could get them to bed without them being too upset. For the first time since their birth, I began to wonder whether I should start working later. That way, we could just avoid this problem altogether.

Fortunately, something happened to remind me that while the valleys can be rough, the peaks are absolutely glorious. At one point my wife took Elijah out of the room to change his diaper and Jordyn was left alone with me. She climbed on my lap and we talked. She reached her hand to my bearded face and rubbed it saying, “Rough,” then touching hers and saying, “Smooth.” When my wife returned with Elijah, Jordyn actually stayed on my lap while I read the last book. When I finished reading, she turned to face me and asked, ‘Daddy take you?”

As if I would ever say no.

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